How we survived/enjoyed 2,5 weeks of Iceland by car + tips

Iceland has been very high on my bucket list for years, ever since I started thinking about traveling the world. In 2018 this dream came true and in a more unconventional and amazing ways than I could have expected, I got to do it with 2 of my best friends.

My friend James and I met back in 2016 at the summer camp that we both worked and would continue to work at the next 4 summers. We did not become close until we were put in the same group for our days off that summer. Ever since we were put into that same group and as far as I can remember we started talking about traveling together. It was 2 years later that we actually made this work alongside one of our friends and co counselors names Gus, if you have read my other travel blogs this name will sound familiar.

Traveling down a dream road

I had not been home in The Netherlands for over a year and a half, before I went over to Iceland I stopped in the Netherlands to see my family and pick up the necessary items for Iceland. It was the end of October 2018 so we knew Iceland was going to be cold and we would probably meet some snow during our time there.

My journey started off in style by me not being able to use my phone and as a result I was not able to contact my friends or the car rental company. My friends were already in Reykjavik, I was supposed to get our rental car and pick them up from their hostel. After some waiting around I was able to meet up with the car rental company and luckily they gave me a gps system so I could at least find my way over to the hostel where my friends were staying at. After picking up my friends we made our way over to the Icelandic supermarket called ”Bonus” to do our first of many food hauls. Iceland is known for their main road called route 1, which is more well known by the name ”the ring road”. This road takes you around basically the entire Island. After our food haul the sky had turned dark and we would drive about an hour and half east on route 1 so we we could set up our tent for our first night together. When we got to our camping spot it was night time, there was snow on the ground but we set up our tent in the dark regardless. This was the first and last night that we used our tent. I can honestly say that my toes have never been that cold in my entire life! The next morning it felt like I could break them off if I really wanted to, I am glad that none of us sustained any frostbite or other damage. This was a lesson learned and for the next 16 ish days we would be sleeping in our car while wearing a triple layer of socks.

After our first full day in Iceland, hiking/ walking around the beautiful landscape and visiting our first waterfall what would be many, we had a decision to make. We could either stay at our camping spot for another night or drive a couple hours up into the mountains to our next spot. It was around 5PM and it gets dark around that time later in the year, but I felt good so I decided it would be fine for me to drive us up there.

Another story to tell the kids

All seemed to be going just fine until we were driving up into the mountains, in the middle of nowhere and it started snowing heavily. The snow falling down wasn’t a problem because it the flakes evaporated before hitting my windshield, the problem started 2 hours later when we got to a sign that told us the road ahead was closed and we would have to turn around. The only 2 buildings we had seen the past 2 hours were a power plant building and this motel looking building that were both about 30 minutes the other direction. We decided to park our car at the motel-ish building, sleep in the car and drive back in the morning. This would be a problem because our battery had died because all of the snow that had fallen that night. We were stuck on top of a mountain, hours away from civilisation. So what did we decide to do? We waited by the road eating peanut M&M’s and drinking some rum while we were trying to find our way of the mountain. We found out that you do hear cars coming when the ground is covered in snow, Gus and I almost got ran over by 2 cars. We asked all the cars passing by if they had any charging cables for us to use but none of them or just kept on driving. We were about to give up and pay a good amount of money for a mechanic to come up the mountain and give us as boost when a big red truck came driving towards us. The 3 of us sprinted toward the road and the guys in the truck luckily had some cables laying around that we were able to use. Around 4 o’clock in the afternoon we were off with our batteries recharged and another cool experience/story in our backpocket.

Living in a car for 2,5 weeks

Within a couple days we had system going. James and I woke up pretty early every day and we would read and do nothing for the next couple hours until Gus woke up and she would urge us to stop being lazy and get it moving for the day. We would eat some breakfast, then I would drive us over to wherever we needed to get to. We would be out and about until we decided it was time to move on or until it was to dark to do anything. After dark we would park our car somewhere nobody could see us and we would cook our dinner in our car, on the a burner that was balanced on the armrest in the middle of the car (what can go wrong). Gus was mainly in charge of putting everything together in the pan that we had bought while James and I were preparing everything. Our main dish was condensed chicken soup with beans, tomato’s, rice and a lot of garlic and salt (delicious right?). It tasted better back then than what you’re imagining right now. After our dinner we would pull out James’ laptop to watch a movie and go to sleep afterwards. James and I were sleeping in the front seat and Gus had her own set-up in the back. We made it work for ourselves and it was warmer than sleeping on the frozen ground outside.

The next 2 weeks

The next 2 weeks we would spend a lot of time hiking around the beautiful landscapes and check out a fair few of the many waterfalls that Iceland has to offer. We got to experience sights and views that are unbelievably beautifull and we got to see some of Europes biggest waterfalls. We got see a couple of big glaciers and experienced the sight of the Northern lights (although not strong enough to photograph). We experienced gyzers and bathed in a natural hot spring where we had to hike up to. Our car almost slipped of a mountain because of the thick layer of ice on the ground. We got lost while hiking and we crossed an ice cold creek with our bare feet. We swam in a heated pool, ate a lot of hot dogs and got drunk in Reykjavik. We drank a lot of Icelandic beers and got to visit a some cool spots that are of the beaten path. We almost ran over a sheep and we took ourselves pretty far into a cave. We parked and slept in a couple dodgy places and were only kicked out of one parking lot. We experienced a lot of unforgetable moments and experiences

Our time in Iceland was amazing and better than I could have hoped for. This was 2 years ago so I told you the interesting stories I remember very well but I don’t want to butcher some of the amazing stories we created by not telling the whole story here. Hopefully the pictures below give you an indication of all the things we experienced

tips while traveling in Iceland by car:

  • buy a lot of hot dogs from any stand or gas station in Iceland, they’re pretty cheap and so good. They’re the best hotdogs I have ever had.
  • Make sure to fill up your gas tank whenever you can, you never know what’s going to happen
  • When filling up your car type in the amount, never press the fill up all the way option. If you do that it will charge you for a full tank of gas and you will only be refunded the money days or weeks later.
  • If you like to hike more accesible trails etc. you should visit Iceland in the summer. However amazing the views and scenery is in the winter the trails are slippery, rough and sometimes dangerous.
  • If you do visit in the winter time, bring or buy crampons. It’s not silly, it will make your experience much better.
  • If you want to see the Northern lights you should be in Iceland after October. The further north you’re the more likely it will be for you to see it because there’s even less light polution.
  • Pick a car that matches your trip. We knew the likelyhood of getting into some dodgy situations was high so we rented accordingly.
  • Get off the ring road whenever you want to. If anything looks interesting, get out and go explore.
  • Weather can change rapidly, if you’re going for a hike bring a rain jacket with you.
  • One of the best things about Iceland is that any natural water source is drinkable. We did not buy water ones, you’re only paying for water that you can fill up yourself. You can literally drink fresh glacier water.
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